Why no one in Kashmir is surprised by the BJP-PDP break-up

There’s a lot of chatter on what this means in the Valley.

WrittenBy:Nidhi Suresh
Date:
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On Tuesday, Valley journalists gathered in the small conference room at the Chief Minister’s residence, pushing and elbowing each other to catch a glimpse of Mehbooba Mufti, who had just been dumped by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “I just want to see her face today,” said one of the journalists. One of Jammu & Kashmir’s most scandalous affairs had just come to a tumultuous end.

Early in 2015, after two months of courtship, the BJP and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) announced the formation of a coalition government. Many called it an “unholy alliance” and most on ground wondered what the two had in common. Before the alliance, Mehbooba Mufti had been referred to as a “soft terrorist” who had a nexus with militant outfits like Hizbul Mujahideen. On the other hand, the BJP was the quintessential Hindu nationalist party.

In fact, in 2014 when Mehbooba Mufti was campaigning for her seat in the government, she reiterated that she would “never” form an alliance with the BJP. “No, we want no truck with the BJP,” she said. “Their agenda is very divisive. They want to pit Gujjars against Pandits, Jammu against Kashmir, Muslim Kashmir versus Hindu India. It’s dangerous and scary. We will come to power on our own. If you polarise Kashmir, you will again create alienation.” But four years later, on June 19, 2018, those words came back to bite the first female CM of J&K. Ram Madhav, senior member of the BJP, said the alliance with PDP is “untenable” as “radicalisation has only increased” along with the “alienation of Jammu and Ladakh”.

Nobody is surprised

“It was an opportunist alliance, they had nothing in common except lust for power,” said Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, MLA Kulgam and senior leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M). According to him, the BJP and PDP were only “playing” with Kashmir and did little for the people. In fact, he said while they talked about “peace and dialogue”, they only caused the situation in Kashmir to deteriorate. “The PDP claimed the alliance will bring maximum gain but there has been no dialogue, no confidence building, and only poor governance,” he said. “And we should all understand that from day one, the BJP never had any concern for Kashmir.”

Tarigami said the BJP dumping the PDP does not reflect any concern for the situation but is an electoral and political move. “The real problem in J&K is the disillusionment that the youngsters are facing today. They were being used all along,” he said.

The 2014 Assembly elections proved that the BJP had made its entry into J&K only because of Jammu. The BJP bagged 25 out of 37 seats in the region, making it the second largest party in J&K after the PDP, which held 28 seats. The BJP’s consistent efforts at making further inroads into Jammu faced a major setback when the case of the gang-rape and murder of an eight-year-old Kathua girl came to light early this year. The case secured the resignation of two BJP ministers who had taken part in a rally to support the perpetrators of the horrific incident. Suddenly, the BJP—which had steadily nurtured Jammu for the last three years—was standing on quicksand, steadily losing its hold in the province.

According to Tarigami, the credibility of the BJP is at stake in Jammu and across the nation. “They’re hoping this break-up will help them further polarise the situation and use it for their vote bank,” he said.

NC vs PDP

Two hours after Delhi announced the fall of the J&K government, Gupkar Road in Srinagar, where both Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti reside, was closed for traffic. Journalists first crowded into Omar Abdullah’s house for a press conference. The former chief minister and leader of the opposition National Conference (NC) told the media that fresh elections must be held. Saying he was shocked by the timing of the break-up, he added, “I told the governor that in the 2014 elections, the National Conference did not have the mandate to form a government, and today also we don’t have the mandate.”

The next press conference was held down the road from Abdullah’s residence. This press conference lead by Mehbooba Mufti—who had just submitted her resignation as Chief Minister—ended just as the last journalist rushed into the hall. Only the first few in the crowd managed to catch a few of her words. “I am not shocked,” she said. While she did not explicitly accept defeat, she repeated to the crowd what locals had been telling her for the last few years: “Muscular policy will not work here.”

She also added that the ceasefire ended on a sad note. Without waiting to answer any questions, she made her exit.

Later, Omar Abdullah made a sharp comment on Twitter: “She was cutting ribbons while the BJP was cutting her legs out from under her. How I wish she had left with her head held high & her dignity intact! She was J&K’s CM, not of the BJPDP.”

Tanvir Sadiq, spokesperson of the NC and political advisor to Omar Abdullah, told Newslaundry, “We’re mourning the demise of democracy.” According to him, despite everything, Mehbooba Mufti should not have been humiliated in the way she was yesterday. “We are not privy to what made them take this step but our sources told us she was sitting in the secretariat when she received a call informing her of the decision,” he said. “The BJP should not have treated her this way.”

Welcoming the governor’s rule, Sadiq said that NN Vohra is a very experienced person who knows Kashmir well. “We’re expecting tempers to cool down a little as a large part of the anger on the ground was fed by the alliance,” he said.

When asked if J&K would now witness the NC joining hands with the BJP in the future, Tanvir Sadiq categorically said, “No way.”  

Rafi Mir, chief spokesperson of the PDP, told Newslaundry, “This is not an acceptance of defeat, it is politics.” He admitted that there have been “issues from day one” but the PDP pulled along with the alliance keeping in mind the larger interest of the state. “Our agenda of alliance addressed several issues like Articles 370 and 35A,” he said.

Mir added that over the last few months, the party had been repeatedly advised to walk out of the alliance but their “commitment to the people” made them decide not to. Refusing to comment further, he concluded by saying, “In a political field, defeat is simply a matter of a decision. This is not a defeat. We still have to be with the people.”

The separatist speaks

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, one of the leaders of the All Party Hurriyat Conference, said that while this move reflects the “true colours” of the BJP, one must “catch the bull by the horn”. Speaking to Newslaundry, he said, “Kashmir is not an administrative or military problem: it is a political problem. There is a lot of contradiction in what the PDP, NC and BJP are saying.”

Farooq said the situation could be delayed, but not denied. “It is not that Delhi doesn’t understand, but it doesn’t want to acknowledge the problem in Kashmir.” He also does not think governor’s rule will make a difference. “This is a question of buying time, not escaping reality. This could mean that security forces have a free hand to increase violence in the state. This could lead to a very, very dangerous situation.”

Farooq stated that the BJP will use this break-up to their maximum advantage. “They will portray themselves as being hard on terror and use this as a strategic move for votebank gains,” he said. Meanwhile, he thinks that while the PDP claims to have a healing touch, the party has proved to have a “killing touch”.

The situation will only deteriorate unless Delhi acknowledges the Kashmir problem, and introduces changes at a policy level, he said.

Playing politics over Bukhari’s death?

Yesterday, while speaking to the media in Delhi, BJP leader Ram Madhav said the murder of senior journalist Shujaat Bukhari in broad daylight symbolised the extent of the violence and threat to free speech.

Journalists in the Valley are outraged by this statement.

Mohammad Syed Malik, one of the senior-most journalists, told Newslaundry, “This cannot and should not be used as an excuse for this break-up.”  He said there is no connection between the two, as this break-up had been coming for a while now. “This statement from the BJP lacks complete credibility. This move is related only to the 2019 elections.”

Another senior freelance journalist, Ahmad Ali Fayyaz, questioned the “sudden, new language of the BJP”. “Till yesterday, they were saying everything is normal here—militancy has reduced, peace is being restored, and the ceasefire has been a success. They had even roped in the army chief to say everything is fine. So then, what is this turn in 24 hours?” he asked.

According to him, the BJP is simply using Bukhari’s death for their own political gains. “This is the same government which did not investigate when Bukhari complained about threats issued against him,” he said. “Shujaat Bukhari himself told me that he had complained to the police and was scared but the police or the government did not pay heed to his complaints. Such a government cannot now take such a moral stand.”

Zaffar Iqbal, a senior correspondent with NDTV, added that while Bukhari’s death definitely reflects the grim situation in the Valley, the differences between the two parties have been apparent right from the start.

In all the din, Heeba Din, a Ph.D. student at Kashmir University, spoke of what this move means to the youth in Kashmir. “My very first thought was: at least now you don’t have a namesake government,” she said. “Nevertheless, the governor’s rule is always taken with a pinch of salt. As the present governor’s period is about to end, with the BJP at the centre, I will not be shocked to see a pro-BJP nominee in place if Vohra’s period is not extended.”

When asked what she feels on a personal level, she said, “Well, in Kashmir for us, the personal and the political is so closely knitted together. For the time being, it is happy news, because people on ground never liked the PDP-BJP alliance.”

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